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Purushottam Das Tandon

Purushottam Das Tandon
Born (1882-08-01)1 August 1882
Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, India)
Died 1 July 1962(1962-07-01) (aged 79)
Religion Hindu
Awards Bharat Ratna

Purushottam Das Tandon (Devanagri: पुरुषोत्तम दास टंडन    ,(1 August 1882 – 1 July 1962), was a freedom fighter from Uttar Pradesh in India. He is widely remembered for his efforts in achieving the Official Language of India status for Hindi. He was customarily given the title Rajarshi (etymology: Raja + Rishi = Royal Saint). He was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award, in 1961.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Freedom struggle 2
  • Post-Independence 3
  • Controversies 4
    • Religious tolerance 4.1
    • Partition of India 4.2
    • Relations with Nehru 4.3
    • Advocacy for Hindi 4.4
  • Anecdotes 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Purushottam Das Tandon was born at Allahabad. After obtaining a degree in law and an MA in history, he started practising in 1906 and joined the bar of Allahabad High Court in 1908 as a junior to Tej Bahadur Sapru. He gave up practise in 1921 to concentrate on public activities.

Freedom struggle

He was a member of Lala Lajpat Rai, in 1921.[2]

He worked as the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the present-day Uttar Pradesh for a period of 13 years, from 31 July 1937 to 10 August 1950. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly of India in 1946.


He tried for the position of the President of the Congress Party unsuccessfully against Pattabhi Sitaramayya in 1948 but contested successfully against Acharya Kriplani in the controversial and difficult 1950 election to head the Nagpur session. He soon resigned from Congress's president post because of differences with Nehru and as Nehru's popularity was needed for winning elections. Nehru, while being the PM, also became the president of Congress for 1951 and 1952.[3] He was elected to the Lok Sabha in 1952 and the Rajya Sabha in 1956. He retired from active public life after that due to indifferent health. He was awarded the Bharat Ratna, India's highest civilian award in 1961.


Religious tolerance

Several controversies and contradictions abound in the life of Purushottam Das Tandon. While he emphasised the similarities between Hindu and Muslim cultures, he is regarded to have carried the image of a soft Hindu nationalist leader. He was not as successful as Gandhi in summoning religious ideals to aspects of Public Service despite being associated with the moderate Radha Soami sect. He and KM Munshi were among those who strongly opposed religious propagation and conversion of a people of one religion to another; they strongly argued in the constituent assembly for a condemnation in the constitution of religious conversion.

Partition of India

On 12 June 1947, the Congress Working Committee met and passed a resolution accepting the Partition of India. When the same had to be ratified on 14 June by the AICC, one of the dissenting voices came from Tandon. On that occasion, he said, "Acceptance of the resolution will be an abject surrender to the British and the Muslim League. The admission of the Working Committee was an admission of weakness and the result of a sense of despair. The Partition would not benefit either community – the Hindus in Pakistan and the Muslims in India would both live in fear." Thus, it can be argued that he was against partition. However, another school of thought believes that his reluctance in sharing power with the Muslim League in the provinces after the 1937 elections with the argument that the Congress Party has achieved majority on its own may have precipitated matters towards partition.

Relations with Nehru

He and Jawaharlal Nehru had good relations in the beginning; Nehru who commended the "No Tax" campaign started by Tandon in 1930. In the 1940s, the differences between them increased. While Tandon was not perceived to be power-hungry, his relation with Nehru was not on good terms and he was believed to be a protégé of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. In 1950, his successful election to the post of Congress President against Acharya Kriplani, who was widely believed to be backed by Nehru, put the latter in a tight spot. The relations between the party and the government suffered during that period. Subsequently, it became a sort of unwritten norm for the leader of the government to also be the party president or at the least, have a pliable candidate in the post.

After Partition, Patel and Nehru developed differences over how to deal with the Muslim minority of India, especially as anti-Hindu violence reigned in Pakistan. Nehru argued that India’s constitutional commitment to the security of its Muslim minority did not depend on how Pakistan treated its Hindu minority. Tandon, being close to Patel, differed with Nehru on this. So, Nehru launched an internal political battle against his own party's elected President and got the party's organisation to support his idea of secularism. Subsequently, it became clear that the nation’s prime minister cannot be opposed by his party’s elected president and Tandon resigned from the post of Congress' president to give way for Nehru. Tandon was elected president in 1950 and then Nehru was elected twice in 1951 and 1952.[4]

Advocacy for Hindi

While it is acknowledged that he brought Hindi to the forefront through his activities in the Hindi Prachar Sabhas, his exclusion of other alternatives bordered on chauvinism despite Gandhi and other leaders advocating the adoption of Hindustani, a mixture of Hindi and Urdu as the National language. He insisted on the usage of Devanagari script and the rejection of the Urdu script as well as words with Arabic-Persian roots. This led to him being called a political reactionary by Nehru. His attitude towards the Sanskritisation or making the language more formal was also controversial. His insistence on the usage of numerals of devanagari script over the international system and his debates in the constituent assembly on adoption of Hindi as the official language irked Dravidian leaders. His stand became all the more inexplicable since he held a conviction that mother-tongue is the most ideal as a medium of instruction.


  • A Speaker is supposed to be impartial and hence, speakers generally do not participate in their party meetings. Tandon, however, used to participate actively in his party meetings, as he was clear in his conscience that since he could separate these into different compartments, there should not be any issue. When he was questioned on this stand on the floor of the house, he offered to step down if any of the members of the house lacked confidence in him. No member pressed the issue.
  • As a staunch believer in ahimsa, he started using rubber chappals to avoid usage of leather.
  • Rajarshi Purushottam Das Tandon was at the time a member of parliament. Once, when he went to collect his salary cheque in the Parliament Office, he asked the clerk there to transfer the amount directly to a "Public Service Fund". The officials over there were pleasantly surprised by his generosity. One of his colleagues standing nearby said: "There are hardly four hundred rupees as your allowance for the whole month. And you are donating the entire amount for social service?" Tandon ji humbly replied – "You see, I have seven sons and all are earning sufficiently to raise their families; each one sends me one hundred rupees per month. I spend only about rupees three to four hundred from that and the rest goes to some philanthropic causes. This allowance as a Member-of-Parliament is again extra for some one like me. Why should I save it for myself or my family? It was because of this natural austerity and detachment from selfish possessions that he was called a "Rajarshi".


  1. ^ "Padma Awards Directory (1954–2007)" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs. Retrieved 26 November 2010. 
  2. ^ Grover, Verinder (1993). Political Thinkers of Modern India: Lala Lajpat Rai. Deep & Deep Publications. pp. 547–.  
  3. ^
  4. ^

External links

  • An article on Purushottam Das Tandon
  • Opposition to Partition
  • Path to Partition
  • A snippet on the relation between Nehru and Purushottam Das Tandon
  • Article saying that Purushottam Das Tandon shifted to Rubber Chappals
  • Arrest of Nehru and Purushottam Das Tandon
  • In a time warp
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